The 60 greatest bassists of all time
27th Feb 2013 | 11:10
Joseph 'Lucky' Scott
BASS EXPO 2013 with ICMP: The humble bass guitarist is an under-appreciated beast. Yet try to imagine the last six decades of popular music without James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Jaco Pastorious or John Paul Jones, to name but a few.
To celebrate the launch of MusicRadar's Bass Expo, we asked you to submit your nominations for the greatest bassist of all time via Facebook, Twitter and the comments on our original call-to-arms article.
We whittled your suggestions down to a top 60 and the voting began in earnest. So, without further ado, in reverse order, we present the 60 greatest bassists of all time, as voted for by you. Kicking things off in style at number 25 is Curtis Mayfield's super-funky early 1970s bassman, Joseph 'Lucky' Scott.
Listen: Curtis Mayfield - We Got To Have Peace (live on The Old Grey Whistle Test)
An avant-garde bassist with a penchant for doing what everybody else thinks he's shouldn't, Laswell's own projects include notable rock experimentalists Praxis, but he's probably best known for his work as an uncompromising producer/session bassist. Not least, for that time when he helped Herbie Hancock to introduce turntablism with the track Rockit.
Listen: Herbie Hancock - Rockit
Barlow was a burgeoning songwriter in his own right during his time with Dinosaur Jr., but was discouraged from contributing to the band by the creative force that was J. Mascis. Still, before his initial three album tenure was up (they reunited in 2005), Barlow's bouncing, mournfully melodic bass chords and fuzz tones laid the blueprint for a generation of alternative rock bassists.
Listen: Dinosaur Jr. - In A Jar
XTC, so the stories goes, were the critical darlings of the UK new wave scene, but did not achieve the commercial success of their peers. Nevertheless, they had a few deserved chart hits, most of which (Making Plans For Nigel, Life Begins At The Hop, Generals And Majors) were penned by bassist Colin Moulding. Nowadays you'll find the likes of Alt-J 'borrowing' most of their ideas.
Listen: XTC - Making Plans For Nigel
A founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, Berry Oakley laid down the melodic bed for Duane and Gregg's famed six-string jams. Although the spotlight was rarely on him, his playing with drummer Butch Trucks should not the be underestimated and is perhaps best illustrated by the group's live recordings.
Listen: The Allman Brothers Band - In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed (Live At The Fillmore East)
An essential member of the legendary MKII Deep Purple line-up that produced the band's seminal albums Machine Head and In Rock, Glover was initially drafted into the band to help Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice take the band in a heavier direction. The plan worked...
Listen: Deep Purple - Highway Star
A member of the Sugar Hill Records house rhythm section that backed the likes of Grandmaster Flash, one quarter of Living Colour and a sessioneer who has graced studio recordings by Madonna, Mick Jagger and Mos Def... there are many, many reasons to dig Doug.
Listen: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message
A natural bassist, Jah Wobble - born John Joseph Wardle - first picked up the instrument and was introduced to the world via John Lydon's Public Image Ltd. in the late 70s, playing and co-writing on the landmark Metal Box album. Since then he's gone on to solo success, collaborating with a wide variety of musicians, including Baaba Maal, The Edge and Can.
Listen: Public Image Ltd. - Poptones
Pete Trewavas joined Buckinghamshire prog rockers Marillion in 1982 and has played with the band ever since. His warm bass tones on hits like Kayleigh are said to be born from a combination of influences including Paul McCartney and prog legend Mike Rutherford.
Listen: Marillion - Kayleigh
The Genesis man started off on bass before taking over all of the band's four and six-string studio duties after the departure of Steve Hackett in 1977. With the rise of the three-piece incarnation and the success of his side project Mike & The Mechanics, Mike's trebly tone became a hallmark of late 70s/early 80s pop.
Listen: Genesis - Follow You Follow Me
Found dead in an Iowa hotel room on 24 May 2010, Paul Gray was a founding member of Slipknot and a driving force behind the band's journey from a self-financed demo in 1996 to festival headline slots, platinum-selling records and Grammy nominations. Gray, a southpaw, was comfortable playing with either pick or fingers and contributed uncompromising bass to a ferocious body of work. Sadly missed.
Listen: Slipknot - Wait And Bleed
The Jam's stripped-back three-piece line-up gave bassist Bruce Foxton the opportunity to make effective use of the space in Weller's soulful new wave compositions - and it was one he didn't waste. As evidenced by the doom-laden opening line to Eton Rifles, the popping run of Going Underground and his iconic Motown-influenced run on A Town Called Malice.
Listen: The Jam - A Town Called Malice
Sklar caught his break after he met James Taylor at California State University and from that point on has not looked back. Crosby, Still And Nash, Jackson Browne, Neil Diamond and The Doors also put him to work throughout the '70s, but he had no trouble finding work with the likes of Phil Collins, Robbie Williams, Dolly Parton and Diano Ross in the years that followed.
Listen: Phil Collins - Another Day In Paradise (Live in 2011)
Gary 'Mani' Mounfield
As a member of not one but two classic British guitar bands that knew a thing or two about filling dancefloors as well as concert halls, Mani has been responsible for some deeply funky basslines over the years; always fluid, always musical, never overplayed. The man has impeccable taste.
Listen: The Stone Roses - Breaking Into Heaven
Jazz bassist Jeff Berlin is a spider-fingered player that to the untrained ear might be considered to share a style with Jaco Pastorius. That said, the Berklee graduate has certainly carved his own niche within the ever-shifting jazz world and has notched up 10 solos albums, plus appearances outside the jazz world with KD Lang, Richie Kotzen and Bill Bruford.
Listen: Jeff Berlin - The Star Spangled Banner
What makes a bassist great? Simmons may not be the most technically gifted player on this list, but few here could beat him when it comes to the live arena and performance. The Demon has also famously proven to be something of a marketing genius to boot...
Listen: KISS - Rock And Roll All Nite
Aston 'Family Man' Barrett
You'd be forgiven for thinking that a man who is believed to have fathered more than 50 children wouldn't have much time on his hands. However, from that late 1960s onwards, Barrett was responsible for adding his all-important bass to the records that turned reggae into a worldwide phenomenon.
Catch A Fire, Burnin', Exodus... Barrett took care of the bottom end on them all. It's just a shame that he's never got the credit that he feels he deserves.
Listen: The Wailers - Stir It Up (live on The Old Grey Whistle Test, 1973)
The older of Radiohead's Greenwood brothers may get less attention than his showier sibling, but his soulful, surprisingly traditional bass lines (he's previously stated that his playing is influenced by the Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield records) are essential in grounding the avant-garde tendencies of the band's guitarists.
Listen: Radiohead - Karma Police
A player who's very much a student of the James Jamerson school of bass (to be fair, it's a pretty good school), Anthony Jackson has served as a sideman on thousands of sessions and hundreds of albums between 1970 and present day. He's also credited as the inventor of the first six-string electric bass, which he dubbed the contrabass guitar.
Listen: O'Jays - For The Love Of Money
Pet Sounds. Good Vibrations. Song Of Innocence. Songs Of Experience. Homeward Bound. Heroes And Villains. These Boots Are Made For Walkin'. Then He Kissed Me. Wichita Lineman. You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling. River Deep - Mountain High. As part of The Wrecking Crew, Carol Kaye contributed guitar and bass to a succession of stone cold classic American pop LPs and 45s. As CVs go, that's pretty hard to beat.
Listen: Ike & Tina Turner - River Deep - Mountain High
Kim Deal famously joined The Pixies when she responded to a classified ad requesting a female bass player who liked both Husker Du and Peter, Paul And Mary. She rubbed Frank Black the wrong way and it was believed her popularity with fans was an issue, but they were the ying to each other's yang. Whether they liked it or not.
Listen: The Pixies - Gigantic
Co-founder of seminal California punks The Minutemen, Mike Watt stood out from many of his peers in the hardcore scene of the 1980s because he could actually play his instrument and his influences (Gang Of Four, Wire etc.) showed a wider ranging musical taste.
Listen: Minutemen - Viet Nam
When your bass guitar tutor is Chess Records session player Louis Satterfield, you'd better go on to international success. It's a good thing then that come 1970 Chicago-born Verdine White accepted his brother Maurice's invitation to head to the West Coast and join his burgeoning R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire...
Listen: Earth, Wind And Fire - September
Nicknamed 'The Angry Man Of Jazz' due to his habit of dressing-down fellow musicians onstage and his quick-fire temperament, Charles Mingus was nonetheless regarded as something of a genius in the jazz world. A phenomenal double-bassist and complex composer, Mingus was also renowned as a talent-spotter, pulling many unknowns into his big band.
Listen: Charles Mingus - Haitian Fight Song
With a glittering CV including live, studio and writing collaborations with such diverse artists as Eric Clapton, Usher, George Harrison, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, to name but a few, Yamaha signature artist East as the go-to bass guy for more A-listers than you can count. Trust us, he's in your record collection somewhere.
Listen: Fourplay - 101 Eastbound
Not all remarkable bassists are content to sit and play sideman roles in traditional bands, some have to tread their own musical path and Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, is one such musician. Since emerging in the electronic music scene in the 90s his genre-splicing approach to the instrument has increasingly come to the fore, culminating in 2009 live album, Solo Electric Bass 1.
Listen: Squarepusher - Hello Meow (Live)
If you're going to cut the mustard standing next to the likes of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Frank Gambale every night, you better have your chops up. Stu Hamm must be doing something right, since he's become the virtuoso guitarist's bassist of choice, appearing on Vai's Flex-Able and Passion And Warfare albums, as well as Satriani's Flying In A Blue Dream.
Listen: Stuart Hamm - Live at the 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival with Joe Satriani
Donald 'Duck' Dunn
Donald 'Duck' Dunn served in the Stax Records house band and in Booker T. & The MGs alongside guitarist Steve Cropper throughout the 60s. Song credits include basslines on Albert King's Born Under A Bad Sign and Otis Redding's Respect, not to mention appearances with The Staples Singers, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. That said, many will remember him best as the pipe-smoking bassist in the Blues Brothers film...
Listen: Albert King - Born Under A Bad Sign
As one of the longest-serving members of the classic line-up of Guns N' Roses, Duff McKagan put in 12 years with the LA rockers from Appetite For Destruction to The Spaghetti Incident (and then some). Since then he's cropped up with Velvet Revolver and more recently Duff McKagan's Loaded, releasing three albums.
Listen: Guns N' Roses - Paradise City
There are plenty of funky players in this rundown, but only one man is the lead professor at Funk University. From playing on James Brown's Sex Machine, to his P-Funk credentials, Bootsy is pretty damn close to being the dictionary definition of funk. Whether Bootsy is toting his Space Bass or a newer Warwick signature model, a funky time is guaranteed for all.
Listen: Bootsy's basic funk formula
Perhaps only rivalled by The Jam's Bruce Foxton as the new wave bass hero, The Strangler's JJ Burnell's chunky intro to Peaches is one of the most easily identifiable bass lines of the era. A similar tone can be heard on No More Heroes and was apparently achieved by playing by using a pick and playing close to the bridge.
Listen: The Stranglers - Peaches
Larry Graham Jr.
The man widely credited with inventing the slapping technique, Larry Graham Jr. had a huge impact on bass players, initially with Sly & The Family Stone (1967 - 1972), recording hits like Dance To The Music and Family Affair, before he went on to form Graham Central Station.
Listen: Graham Central Station - Hair
Session ace Pino Palladino broke through playing fretless bass on Gary Numan's I, Assassin in 1982 and quickly went on to play with the likes of David Gilmour, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. In the last decade, he's spent his time filling the considerably large shoes of John Entwistle in The Who and also cropped up on Adele's planet-dominating album 21.
Listen: The Who - My Generation (Live On Jools Holland in 2007)
Are you cooler than Kilmister? No, of course you're not. He may be more famed for his rock-ruined voice, facial features and lifestyle choices than his actual bass playing, but Lemmy's 'everything louder than everything' else approach to rock 'n' roll gets the job done. A bonafide bass icon.
Listen: Motörhead - Ace Of Spades (What else!?)
Originally a drummer, the Muse bassist picked up a four-string when he was invited to join Matt Bellamy and Dominc Howard's new outfit, Rocket Baby Dolls. Fortunately, they changed the band name and Chris stuck with the instrument and brought us lines like Time Is Running Out, New Born and Plug In Baby.
Listen: Muse - Plug In Baby
Amidst the turmoil and lineup changes, the chaos and charisma of Lynott and Lizzy, it's easy to forget that the gifted singer, songwriter, spokesperson and frontman at centre-stage was also one hell of a bass player. Lynott's hometown of Dublin erected a statue in his honour, and you love him too.
Listen: Thin Lizzy - Dancing In The Moonlight (It's Caught Me In Its Spotlight)
Ah, the '70s. A time when men were men and bassists were going nuts for jazz fusion. Stanley Clarke helped Return To Forever refine the jazz fusion sound - raising them up to be one of the era and genre's most prominent practicioners - while simultaneously developing his solo career on albums like School Days.
Listen: Return To Forever - The Romantic Warrior (Live on The Old Grey Whistle Test)
As much as Syd Barrett is (rightly) held up as the errant genius of the group, it wasn't until Roger Waters took the reins in 1968 that Pink Floyd yielded their greatest work. Five years later and the band were embarking on a consecutive run of albums that included Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall. But you know that already, so we'll just leave you with this equally obvious example of his talent for an iconic bassline...
Listen: Pink Floyd - Money
Although you can measure his wide-ranging, varied career in decades, it's still the two year period between late 1966 and November 1968 that defines Jack Bruce. Cream's blend of heavy blues, pop and psychedelia produced some of the most revered music of the period, with Bruce's memorable basslines and Gibson EB-3 at its heart.
Listen: Cream - Sunshine Of Your Love
Initially a rhythm guitarist in early bands Polka Tulk and Rare Breed, formed with his mate John Osbourne, Geezer switched to bass in the early days of 'Sabbath. Not only did he go on to make a name for himself as the band's lyricist, his bass work saw him make several innovations, becoming one of the first bassists to use a wah pedal and also to down-tune.
Listen: Black Sabbath - N.I.B.
Yes legend Chris Squire is synonymous with the dynamic growl of his rare export model Rickenbacker RM1999, a sound that has been a feature of his band's output since their 1969 debut. Rickenbacker would later honour Squire with the 4001CS signature model, its body and neck shape slightly tweaked to the Yes man's specifications.
Listen: Yes - Heart Of The Sunrise
Whether it's for his work with Steve Vai, Mr Big or David Lee Roth, his numerous 'Best Rock Bass Player' awards or his incredible chops, there was no way that our poll wouldn't see Sheehan scoop bucketloads of your votes. Want to sound like him? Check out the extensive gear section on the official Billy Sheehan website.
Listen: Billy Sheehan bass solo
Having an instrument stolen is one of the more devastating things that can happen to a musician, unless you're Mick Karn. When he had his bassoon nicked as a young man, he bought a bass guitar for £5 and went on to form Japan with David Sylvian. Despite being self-taught, or perhaps because of it, he quickly developed a distinctive style, particularly with his fretless bass work.
Listen: Japan - Visions Of China
A prominent session musician since the 1970s, Tony Levin has appeared on over 500 albums, among them releases by John Lennon, Cher, Lou Reed, Tom Waits and Dire Straits. He's also served a long stint in Peter Gabriel's band, using the opportunity to develop his Chapman Stick technique and remains one of the instrument's leading names.
Listen: Dire Straits - One World
Steve Harris has been the bass player, principal songwriter and band leader in Iron Maiden since 1975. The galloping cavalry charge of his fingers across the flatwound strings of his Precision Bass is constantly evocative of the blood and thunder of his lyrics, but quite simply, without 'Arry, there would be no Iron Maiden.
Listen: Iron Maiden - Phantom Of The Opera
A founding member of the progressive metal superstars, Myung's talent is beyond question. He's the longest serving member of the band, alongside John Petrucci, which we imagine helps him to keep his chops up...
Listen: Dream Theater - The Dance Of Eternity
The man responsible for some of the best basslines ever written. Bernard Edwards first teamed up with Nile Rodgers in the early '70s under the moniker of The Big Apple Band, eventually becoming Chic in 1976 when they recruited drummer Tony Thompson and singer Norma Jean Wright. Edwards wrote a string of bass-worshiping disco hits with the band, including Le Freak, Everybody Dance and, of course, the iconic Good Times.
Listen: Chic - Good Times
On 27 September 1986, the music world lost a huge talent. Aged just 24, Cliff Burton and his Metallica bandmates had already recorded their defining statement and arguably the greatest heavy metal album of all time in the shape of Master Of Puppets. Burton's unique lead bass playing is a highlight on the incredible eight minute instrumental Orion from that album, but his influence can be felt all over Metallica's first three genre-defining LPs.
Listen: Metallica - (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth
Primus were one of the most leftfield acts to break into the American rock mainstream in the 1990s. At the heart of their marvelously skewed sound is Les Claypool's dirty, intricate bass that he slaps, taps and mangles like nobody else.
Listen: Primus - Jerry Was A Race Car Driver
The most influential electric bass player of all time, and the man who revolutionised the role of the bass guitar in pop should, by rights, be a hell of a lot further up this rundown. Throughout the 1960s, Jamerson performed, uncredited, on hundreds of hit singles as part of Motown's legendary house band, The Funk Brothers. It wasn't until 1971 when Marvin Gaye's Whats Goin' On sleeve notes listed him as 'the incomparable James Jamerson' that his name was even featured on a major Motown release.
Jamerson's 1962 sunburst Fender Precision bass was strung with heavy flatwounds and generally played with just the index finger of his right hand, which became nicknamed 'The Hook'. His melodic, syncopated basslines are peerless in the canon of recorded popular music.
Listen: Stevie Wonder - For Once In My Life
As early as The Beatles' 1963 debut LP Please Please Me, it was apparent that Paul McCartney was a talented bass player with ambition way beyond root notes. At his creative peak just a few short years later, Macca was not only writing some of the greatest songs in history, but influenced by the likes of James Jamerson, he was also contributing wonderfully imaginative basslines to the most important catalogue of recordings ever committed to tape. Everyone in this top 60 is a gifted musician, but Paul McCartney changed the world.
Listen: The Beatles - Rain
John Paul Jones
What can we say about one half of the greatest rock rhythm section in history? Certainly, JPJ's body of work with Led Zeppelin is staggering, but when you consider that Jones, in his mid-sixties, was still rocking festival stages across the globe with Them Crooked Vultures as of 2010... the man is a monolith.
Listen: Led Zeppelin - Ramble On
Five-time Grammy winner Victor Wooten is a monster player who regularly takes the bass guitar on voyages of discovery as far away as can be from its traditional position in pop music. Our annual visit to the NAMM show wouldn't be complete without Victor blowing our minds with his outrageous dexterity.
Listen: Victor Wooten - Amazing Grace
Although The Ox was a picture of stillness amidst the whirlwind of Townshend, Moon and Daltrey's stage antics, in terms of fretboard gymnastics and sheer volume, his contribution to The Who was impossible to ignore. If Jamerson and McCartney made the bass guitar an instrument of melody in pop music, Entwistle thrust it even further to the forefront and made it a weapon.
Listen: The Who - My Generation (live)
Michael Peter Balzary, better known as Flea, has proven over time with the Red Hot Chili Peppers that whether it's funked-out slap or melodic minimalism that's required, he can nail it with precision and style.
2009 saw the launch of his Fleabass venture, aiming to provide aspiring bass superstars with high quality instruments at reasonable prices.
Listen: Red Hot Chili Peppers - Around The World
Few would disagree that Weather Report bassist and solo artist Jaco Pastorius was one of the most talented bassists ever to walk the earth. His inspired use of harmonics was groundbreaking, but he sure knew how to make his early '60s Jazz basses growl too.
Listen: Weather Report - Teen Town
The Isle Of Wight's most famous slapper is about as cool as a habanero pepper nestled inside a recently-microwaved McDonald's apple pie, but few would dare to argue with the power of the Level 42 mainman's thumb.
Listen: Mark King slap solo
The man behind some of the finest post-punk basslines ever commited to record, Simon Gallup joined The Cure in 1979 recorded The Dark Trilogy of albums (Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography) and then got in a fist fight with Robert Smith and left the band for two years in 1982. Since his return in 1984 they've been firm friends, something probably aided by his amazing lines on the likes of Love Cats and Close To Me.
Listen: The Cure - Close To Me
It's Geddy Lee. The Rush man has inspired thousands to pick up the bass guitar, and many of the other bassists in this rundown cite him as an influence. A leading frontman, songwriter and a remarkable bass talent, it's no surprise he remains perennially popular with you guys.
Listen: Rush - YYZ
Penning and performing basslines for Duran Duran's world conquering hits, including Girls On Film, Rio, and Hungry Like The Wolf, John Taylor nailed technical runs while always serving the song. He's often hailed as an underrated player, so it's about time that he was given his due. You guys obviously think so, since Taylor won the poll with a massive 30% of the vote.